You can spend all the time you want marketing yourself, gathering leads and touching base with potential new clients, but if you screw up your proposal then it’s all for nought. There’s one guaranteed method to win more clients for your freelance business, and it’s this…
Write Better Proposals.
You need a proposal that sells you, your expertise and your solution. How do you do all that and not come off as a Don Draper wannabe?
Understand their pain.
If you don’t understand your clients’ pain then won’t be able to offer a truly effective solution. Even if you win that particular contract, the chances are good that you will fail in the execution. For any project to be a success you really need to understand the root of the problem.
It’s only by understanding your clients’ needs that you can truly succeed in any project. Dig deep and find out what lies beneath.
A blanket statement like, “My service no longer sells” is merely the outcome of a problem. It’s our job as designers to find the cause of this problem, and it’s only through understanding that we can offer a valid, effective solution.
Some designers when hearing the phrase “My product no longer sells” may assume that the product has become outdated in some way. They may even be tempted to think that a simple redesign will be enough to remedy the problem, but the real issue will almost certainly be more complex.
While the product may be outdated, there may still be certain aspects of the service that do a great job. A simple redesign won’t take this into account and could actually damage the client’s service.
You need to dig deeper. Understanding your clients’ needs will allow you to wow them with your in-depth understanding of their situation.
We all like to be understood…
Your proposal should be succinct.
Very few clients like to read proposals for the sake of it, and most businesses would rather not wade through pages and pages of well meant, but superfluous information. You won’t be the only person after this gig, so if your proposal happens to be number 20 of 60, then you’d better be the dictionary definition of concise.
“Marked by brevity of expression or statement : free from all elaboration and superfluous detail”
The job of a proposal is to communicate a message, and that message is that you understand your client’s problem. No stories and no nonsense.
Don’t leave your client guessing. Be direct and succinct.
Costing should be crystal clear.
Leave no doubt as to what your client will be investing in. Costing should be accompanied by a brief summary. Don’t just list a price and move on, state the value given by each. Package up your costs. It’s easier to sell value, than line items. You’re selling a solution.
Your client doesn’t want generic pricing.
Never base your proposal on pricing alone, there is always someone willing to work for less than you… always.
Let me repeat this, never base your proposal on pricing alone.
Of the two options below which would you say provides the most value?
Web Design: 2.500€
Redesign of current site that has become outdated by advances in technology and design styles.
Web Design of Marketing site (4 pages): 2.500€
Your original website was designed in 2005 and has become antiquated in it’s functionality and aesthetic. Technologies have advanced greatly in the last 8 years. By paying special attention to your signup conversion rates and the checkout process issues you are currently experiencing we aim to increase overall web profits by 37% within the first 6 months.
It’s clear that the second option has looked at some of the key issues faced by the client and has even given actionable areas where they can make a difference to the client’s bottom line. The first proposal has crossed it’s fingers and hopes that no one else will bid less. Of course this doesn’t mean the first designer doesn’t know what he’s doing, but he does put himself at a clear disadvantage.
There are systems for everything, but being designers we like to think that we don’t need systems, right?
A proposal is an ideal candidate for a system.
The how is not as important as the why. A simple checklist can ensure that you’re not wasting time or resources, and that you are as informed as possible about the state of your proposal once it’s been sent.
Start with an initial template: Templates are bad right? Not always… Templates are a starting point. They will save you time, money and your sanity. A template is a starting point, not an end product. We’re not talking cookie cutter stuff, we’re talking efficiency. A template exists to be adapted, adapted to each and every client and project type.
You can greatly reduce the time spent creating proposals by beginning with a template, sometimes up to 60%, and that’s no small amount of time over a month!
Check the grammar, then check it again.
Know what’s happening once the proposal has been sent… this can be easier said than done if you create proposals the “old fashioned” way. One of the biggest problems we face as freelance designers is knowing what happens once we hit “Send”.
How can we be sure if the client has read our proposal? If you’re not using an online service to create your proposals then you need to be very diligent in your follow up.
Don’t let more than 24 hours pass by before sending a “did you receive my proposal” email. If the client fails to respond to your initial email then try ringing or Skyping them. Sometimes we assume the worse, but you’d be amazed at how long some clients can take to review an urgently requested proposal.
While on the surface layout and styling may seem a trivial matter, we know differently. Us creatives types like to be creative in everything, sometimes to our detriment.
Don’t let design to get in the way. The focus of your proposal should be on the content.
Don’t make your client fight to get to the content. Writing a well structured proposal means breaking a complex message into short concise sections. Your client will thank you, especially if your proposal is number 24 of 58!
Each section should be 100% focused on convincing the client that you are the right person/team for the job.
A good starting point for a proposal could be:
Give a brief overview of yourself and/or your company. Establish yourself as the expert you are and set the tone for the rest of the proposal. This one is optional, some argue it’s unnecessary. I use it, but see what works for you.
From the information you have gathered during your research phase you reiterate the needs of the client, displaying a real understanding of the fundamental issues the client is facing. If while reading this section the client thinks “wow, they really get me”, then your chances of winning the proposal are greatly increased.
After having understood the needs of your client you can now detail how you mean to implement your solution to their problem. Be as specific as possible. Give real numbers where possible.
Of the two examples below, which would make more sense to a client?
“Through redesigning company X’s website, we can increase signups to your monthly newsletter”
Newsletter campaigns currently account for 34% of your total income, but you mentioned an 85% drop off at your signup form. Through user research, testing and lean development techniques we aim to reduce the drop off rate to 35% in 4 months.
Just being able to even hint at measurable metrics automatically puts you in a better position. Is this more work? Yes, sure it is, but you want this contract right? It goes without saying, that the metrics you provide need to be real 🙂
The costing section should be simple and free of distraction (as should the entire proposal). Package pricing into options. Going with simple line items will only push the client to focus on the cost, and not the benefits of the complete package.
Closing Statement (next steps)
The closing statement should prepare your client for any further steps that may need to be taken. You may have attached attached extra documents to the proposal, maybe a contract, design mockups or perhaps a spreadsheet, this is the place to inform your client of this.
Let them know exactly what is expected of them for things to move forward. If they need to accept your online proposal by clicking the “accept proposal” button, then let them know. If they need to dance the light fandango and call out your name three times, then tell them here… don’t leave them guessing.
Make sure your contact information is included, don’t make the client search for it. You can’t win a proposal if the client can’t get hold of you!
Of course if you really want to get the most out of your proposals then you can try nusii, my own online proposal service for freelance designers.
After a long time struggling to keep up with my proposals I decided to build a service from the ground up. It’s aimed squarely at designers, and in my humble opinion I think it’s the simplest online proposal solution for designers.
Also anyone who buys my book “The Designer’s Guide to Freelancing” will automatically get one month’s free subscription to nusii, that’s on top of the 30 day trial that comes with every nusii account. 60 days free!
If you have any thoughts on the proposal process in general or have any questions or queries about nusii or freelancing, then drop me a line. I reply to every email.
Want to survive as a freelance designer?
Download a free sample chapter from my book “The Designer’s Guide to Freelancing” and be the first to receive all my latest posts.
Latest posts by Nathan Powell (see all)
- Give up or buck up. The founders’ dilemma - September 25, 2015
- How we lost revenue by improving our signup process - September 19, 2015
- Building a product and saying no to features - July 1, 2015